The Unforeseen Challenges of Flooding: Tulare Lake, California
Sep 18, 2023

The Unforeseen Challenges of Flooding: Tulare Lake, California

In the wake of intense storms that battered California in the winter of 2023, a vast lake re-emerged in the Central Valley, swallowing one of the nation's largest and most valuable stretches of cropland. This phenomenon, while fascinating, has brought to light the significant challenges flooding poses for utilities and the reality of flooding occurring outside traditional FEMA flood zones.

Tulare Lake, dating back to the Ice Age, re-emerged in the basin that once held the largest body of freshwater west of the Mississippi River. Initially a trickle, the water that coursed into the lakebed over a few months swallowed an extensive stretch of cropland, expanding to about 168 square miles by the onset of summer. This flooding was caused by climate-amplified sheets of rain over the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and it is being fed by the melting snowpack that piled up in the mountains to near-record levels.

The resurrection of Tulare Lake has posed significant challenges for utilities. Pacific Gas and Electric Co., for instance, has been painstakingly removing sunken electrical transformers from the lake bed. The flooding has also affected the local infrastructure, with detours and roadblocks bedecking its shores. The lake has swallowed farmland, roads, and even power poles, disrupting the usual flow of utilities and services in the area.

The flooding of Tulare Lake is a stark reminder that flooding can occur outside of traditional FEMA flood zones. This event was not a result of a predictable weather pattern or a known flood-prone area, but rather an intense storm and subsequent snowmelt. This highlights the need for a broader understanding and anticipation of flood risks, especially in the context of climate change, which can amplify traditional weather patterns and create unexpected flooding events.

Long Term Impact

The flooding has disrupted the local infrastructure, leading to the creation of detours and roadblocks around the lake's shores. This has affected the delivery of essential services and utilities, causing delays and increasing operational costs. Roads that were once used for the transportation of goods and services are now submerged, forcing utility companies to find alternative routes or methods of delivery.

The flooding has caused damage to power poles and other electrical infrastructure. This has caused power outages and disruptions to the region's electricity supply. Repairing or replacing this infrastructure is a complex task that requires significant resources and time.

The lake also poses a long-term threat to the quality of the local water supply. The floodwaters have become polluted with chemicals, manure, and diesel, which could potentially infiltrate local groundwater sources. This could have serious implications for water utilities, which would need to invest in additional water treatment measures to ensure the safety of the water supply.

As we continue to grapple with the effects of climate change, it is crucial to broaden our understanding of flood risks and develop strategies to mitigate their impact on our communities and infrastructure.

EKN Engineering's Asset Monitoring solution is particularly crucial in preparing for and mitigating extreme flooding events. This solution leverages real-time tracking and AI-driven insights to monitor flood-prone areas and infrastructure continuously. It enables proactive maintenance and enhances resilience against extreme flooding events. By meticulously tracking potential risks and changes in flood water levels in real-time, EKN's solution can swiftly address or mitigate issues before they escalate, ensuring a safer environment and safeguarding communities from devastating floods.

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